Four years ago, figure skaters Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon were eating In-N-Out cheeseburgers in shared misery after being left off the U.S. Olympics team roster. They understood the math. For the Olympics, you only get one shot every four years, and for a sport that uses the body’s lower center of mass, your aging body makes it increasingly unlikely for your muscles to pull off spins and jumps. The average U.S. Olympics figure skater is 22 years old.
“It was awful,” Nagasu told USA Today about missing the roster. “I was very close to quitting.”
Fast forward to now, both Nagasu, 24, and Rippon, 28, are roommates at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, having successfully pulled off historic comebacks with their Sunday performances, helping the U.S. earn a team bronze.
— U.S. Figure Skating (@USFigureSkating) February 12, 2018
Here’s how they maintained the focus necessary to keep going after the long setback:
Nagasu focused on doing something no U.S. skater had ever done
To get back to the Olympics, Nagasu said she needed to believe in herself even when her performance was not reflecting her goals. The athlete ambitiously trained to complete the jump that only Japan’s Midori Ito and Mao Asada have successfully landed before her at the Olympics — the triple axel. To put the difficulty of this jump in context, the triple axel requires you to hurl your body into the air at full speed, spin your body around three-and-a-half rotations in less than a second, and then land backward on one foot.
“This is a journey that started with me wanting to become better and improve and change myself. It doesn’t happen immediately. It was rough,” Nagasu said about her training. “I would have dreams that I could do this jump, then I would try it on ice and I would fall. But I knew in my heart this day would come.”
On Sunday night, she accomplished a goal she had spent years preparing for, landing the jump and becoming the first American to land a triple axel at the Olympic Games. It’s a lesson in focus and betting on the longevity of your career, even when the current situation looks hopeless.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 12, 2018
Adam Rippon makes Olympics debut
Rippon is the elder statesman on the U.S. Olympics figure skating team, a skater that many had written off for failing to make the Olympics in 2010 and 2014.
Rippon said the pressure of expectations was why he failed to make Olympics teams in previous years. After his cheeseburger-eating-low, Rippon said his coach asked him point-blank: Did he actually like competing? Once he realized that he did, he focused on competing for the Olympics on his own terms, coming out as gay in 2015 and focusing on his comeback.
The REAL one for I did for TV says “my mom” but, like, I needed this one for myself because it was the first thing that actually popped in my head and I thought I was so funny. pic.twitter.com/aC5X7wQ7bY
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) February 5, 2018
It worked. In 2016, Rippon won a gold medal at the U.S. championships, helping to prove he deserved to be on the three-man U.S. Olympics team. As the first openly gay U.S. figure skater at the Winter Games, Rippon is now a pioneer both on and off the ice.
When Rippon took that 2016 national title, his first title win in eight years, he declared a motivational phrase we can all use next time when we hit a career low: “I’m like a witch and you can’t kill me! I keep coming back every year, and every year I get better.”